February 19, 2020
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Ex-Mainer sues owners of 4 Portland-area motels alleging staff ignored signs of sex trafficking

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
A pedestrian walks outside the Motel 6 on Riverside Street in Portland on Thursday. A former Maine woman is suing owners of 4 Portland-area motels, including Motel 6, alleging staff ignored signs of sex trafficking.

If you or someone you know needs resources of support related to sex trafficking, contact the Maine National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888 for free 24/7 confidential services.

A former Maine woman who says she is a survivor of sex trafficking in the Portland area has sued two large hotel chains in U.S. District Court claiming they have ignored human trafficking activities in their motels.

The woman, identified by the initials R.T., is one of about 1,500 victims of sex trafficking, and the first in Maine, who are expected to join a national effort to force hotel and motel owners to compensate victims, Paul Pennock, a New York attorney representing some victims, told the Associated Press last month.

So far, 36 cases have been filed in 21 federal courts around the country. A motion to consolidate them so they are dealt with by a single judge in Columbus, Ohio, is pending.

In addition to unspecified damages, the lawsuits are demanding that the companies train staff to recognize the signs of human trafficking and take steps to intervene by notifying police or groups that offer support to victims.

The motels named in the Maine lawsuit are owned by two different hotel chains. The Travelodge at 1200 Brighton Ave. in Portland, the Howard Johnson at 675 Main St. in South Portland and Knights Inn at 634 Main St. in South Portland are all owned by Wyndham Hotels and Resorts Inc. The fourth motel is the Motel 6 at 1 Riverside St. in Portland, which is owned by G6 Hospitality LLC.

The Travelodge and Knights Inn are now closed.

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
A light shines outside a window at the Motel 6 on Riverside Street in Portland on Thursday. A former Maine woman is suing owners of 4 Portland-area motels, including Motel 6, alleging staff ignored signs of sex trafficking.

R.T., who now lives in Pensacola, Florida, alleged in the complaint, filed in federal court in Portland, that she was trafficked out of all four of those motels by two different men between 2006 and 2015. The first allegedly sold her to friends in exchange for drugs and forced her to work out of the Howard Johnson and Travelodge.

The second man allegedly trafficked her out of all four locations.

“During this time , R.T. was subject to repeated instances of rape, physical abuse, verbal abuse, exploitation, psychological torment, and false imprisonment at the defendants’ hotels,” the complaint said.

She was required to have sex for payment with between two and seven clients per night, the lawsuit said. The trafficker allegedly requested a first-floor room far from the lobby at each location.

Before checking out of the room, she was required to wrap up her stained bedding and place it in the hall, the complaint said. At each hotel, the trafficker allegedly directed R.T. and other girls to obtain linens and extra towels from the front desk but were told not to allow housekeeping staff into the room. She also was told to avoid making eye contact with motel staff.

The complaint also alleges that motel staff failed to recognize or report that R.T. was being victimized despite signs of human trafficking such as bruises, physical deterioration, malnourishment, no eye contact and short stays, the complaint said.

“Defendants harbored or otherwise facilitated a sex trafficking venture on their hotel properties and accordingly, financially benefited from the sex trafficking [R.T.] suffered,” the lawsuit said. “Furthermore, the defendants failed to prevent her continued victimization.”

The lawsuits have been filed under the provisions of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2013. It gives survivors 10 years after they have escaped their traffickers to seek compensation.

The lawsuits appear to have spurred the National Hotel & Lodging Association to launch a campaign to fight human trafficking titled “No Room for Trafficking.” A June press release said that the goal is to train every hotel worker to recognize the signs of human trafficking. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security also has created a toolkit for hospitality workers.

In response to a request for comment on the lawsuit, Wyndham Hotels and G6 Hospitality issued statements condemning human trafficking and pointed to efforts to train hospitality workers, but declined to comment on the pending litigation.

“Through our partnerships with the International Tourism Partnership, ECPAT-USA, Polaris Project and other organizations that share the same values, we have worked to enhance our policies condemning human trafficking while also providing training to help our team members, as well as the hotels we manage, identify and report trafficking activities,” the statement from Wyndham said. “We also make training opportunities available for our franchised hotels, which are independently owned and operated.”

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
A truck on the Maine Turnpike drives by the Motel 6 on Riverside Street in Portland on Thursday. A former Maine woman is suing owners of 4 Portland-area motels, including Motel 6, alleging staff ignored signs of sex trafficking.

“Trafficking of people violates basic human rights and constitutes a global societal problem in which multiple stakeholders must partner in order to eradicate this problem,” G6 Hospitality said. “Motel 6 takes a proactive, zero-tolerance stance on human trafficking. There is nothing more important to us than the safety and well-being of our guests, our employees, and the communities in which we operate.”

In response to the apparently recent focus on training in the hospitality industry, an attorney representing some sex trafficking survivors said those efforts have come too late.

“While these hotel chains would like the public to believe they are vigilant in the fight against sex trafficking, it has taken many years since the Trafficking Victims Protection Act was reauthorized [in 2013] for the hotels to admit that they should take action,” Teresa Curtin of New York City said Thursday. “Many years of turning a blind eye, with nothing to show for their so called ‘efforts’ to protect the vulnerable victims being trafficked on their properties. The No Room for Trafficking campaign is a blatant attempt to divert pressure off of an industry that has sat idly by and profited from these crimes for years.”

 


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